Literature

The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English

An entertaining and illuminating collection of weird, wonderful, and downright baffling words from the origins of English—and what they reveal about the lives of the earliest English speakers

Hardcover

Price:
$19.95
ISBN:
Published:
Apr 12, 2022
2022
Pages:
296
Size:
5.5 x 8.5 in.
Illus:
15 b/w illus.
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Old English is the language you think you know until you actually hear or see it. Unlike Shakespearean English or even Chaucer’s Middle English, Old English—the language of Beowulf—defies comprehension by untrained modern readers. Used throughout much of Britain more than a thousand years ago, it is rich with words that haven’t changed (like word), others that are unrecognizable (such as neorxnawang, or paradise), and some that are mystifying even in translation (gafol-fisc, or tax-fish). In this delightful book, Hana Videen gathers a glorious trove of these gems and uses them to illuminate the lives of the earliest English speakers. We discover a world where choking on a bit of bread might prove your guilt, where fiend-ship was as likely as friendship, and where you might grow up to be a laughter-smith.

The Wordhord takes readers on a journey through Old English words and customs related to practical daily activities (eating, drinking, learning, working); relationships and entertainment; health and the body, mind, and soul; the natural world (animals, plants, and weather); locations and travel (the source of some of the most evocative words in Old English); mortality, religion, and fate; and the imagination and storytelling. Each chapter ends with its own “wordhord”—a list of its Old English terms, with definitions and pronunciations.

Entertaining and enlightening, The Wordhord reveals the magical roots of the language you’re reading right now: you’ll never look at—or speak—English in the same way again.